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Arab leaders stay away from Baghdad summit

The turnout in Iraq by regional leaders wasn't very high for Thursday's meeting. But those who did show up appealed to the Syrian government to stop the violence.

By Hamza Hendawi & Lara JakesAssociated Press / March 29, 2012

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki attends the opening session of the 23rd Arab League summit in Baghdad March 29.

Saad Shalash/REUTERS

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Baghdad

Fewer than half the leaders of the Arab world showed up at an Arab summit in Baghdad on Thursday, a snub to the Iraqi government, but the leaders agreed on an appeal to Syria's regime to stop its bloody crackdown on opponents..

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As the summit opened in a former palace of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the powerful Sunni monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, other Gulf nations and Jordan and Morocco were absent.

The only ruler from the Gulf to attend was the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, whose attendance was significant because Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 and occupied it for nearly seven months before a U.S.-led coalition drove his army out. Relations between the two neighbors have been fraught with tension since and even after Saddam's 2003 ouster. Sheik Al Sabah's attendance should cap recent improvement in relations.

The one-day summit ended with a call on Syria's embattled regime to "immediately implement" proposals put forward by joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to end the deadly year-long conflict. The summit's final communique said that the Arab leaders fully support the "legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people to democracy and freedom and their right to determine their future."

The plan calls for Damascus to immediately stop troop movements and use of heavy weapons in populated areas and to commit to a daily two-hour halt in fighting to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations. It includes a full cease-fire to be supervised by the U.N. so that all parties can discuss a political solution.

In his first comments on Annan's plan, Assad says Syria will "spare no effort" to ensure the mission's success, according to the state news agency. Assad said Annan must also get a commitment from armed groups to cease their "terrorist acts" against his government.

Speaking at the post-summit news conference, Arab league chief Nabil Elaraby suggested that the Annan plan was Assad's last chance for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, which the U.N. says has killed at least 9,000 people.

"Assad was given more than one chance. The issue is now with the United Nations and the Security Council," said Elaraby. "The ball is now in Syria's court. It will have to act positively."

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